Conducted by Scott Thornburn, July 16, 2017
Kambiz Merabi is the president and CEO of the Merabi Organization Group (MOG), a development firm behind many high-profile luxury building projects. In January, Merabi Organization Group started bidding on a $900 million-plus project, having secured construction financing to jump-start the stalled progress on an 80-story mixed (retail, hotel, and hotel) residential condo at 351 South Hill Street in LA. The Ashai Group-designed project will have 145 hotel-condo-residential units in 2021. The company is currently working on projects with a combined value of around $2 billion. Mr. Kambiz Merabi, 58, is a New York-raised luxury developer of residential and office rental buildings. His company also provides property management services for all his buildings. MOG owns the landmark Friar Professional Building on Friar in Van Nuys and is currently a developer of 3941 Weslin Ave. in Sherman Oaks designed by the well-known architecture firm Ashai Design in Beverly Hills.
Where did you grow up?
I was born on January 21, 1959. I grew up in Tehran, and then Great Neck, NY. I went to Queens College. My family’s background is Jewish Persian, however my parents thought the US education system was better than Europe’s. New York is a great, diverse cultural city where the west meets the east and middle east.
What were you like as a kid?
I was serious kid growing up. I was a leader in my class, but I was also always a bit of a rebel.
Did you play sports as a kid?
I played water polo, volleyball, soccer and tennis. My favorite sport was water polo, I love the water.
When did you move to the United States?
I left Persia in 1978 and spent six months in Italy before I came to the U.S. in 1979.
When did you start working?
I started working at our family business in the summer of 1979.
How is business going so far this year, 2017?
Surprisingly well. We just started the construction of 3941 and we already have a few offers to sell.
How did you know real estate is what you would like to do?
I was about 26. An international luxury clothing company, based in Italy, wanted to open a store in Manhattan on Madison Avenue. They approached me regarding renting a store on Madison Ave., and wanted to know if I had a building there. To my luck we had just purchased a building on the northeast corner of Mad and 74th Street (24 E 74, and 935/941 Mad Ave.), that a 3,000-square-foot corner store supermarket was leaving. They took the store at prime rent, and that’s when I realized I really love commercial real estate “1985”.
Why did you eventually change from building owner to developer?
I started renovating our buildings in 1992 when the economy started improving, but I could only do so much to these old walk-up buildings. It took a few year until I decided to build my own buildings the way I like them to be. My passion is luxury class A buildings, it’s jazzier to build luxury rental and it makes a difference in regards to the tenants you attract.
Where do you live?
I moved to Los Angeles in 2005 from NYC to be near my in-laws. They live in Encino, and so do we.
Do you have any real estate in New York still?
Yes I do, in Upper Eastside, and on 53rd street. I still have an apartment on Park Ave, and 75thstreet. I’m a city person, and I love NYC.
How many kids do you have?
I have three angel: Adena, Adiela, and Daniela. They are in universities. We’re empty-nesters.
Your wife, Arezoo, is often called a socialite. Are you active on the social scene as well?
Not as much as her. She does a lot of charity work, and keeps me on my toes with our social life and traveling.
What’s your main role at MOG?
I help with the design, management, and execution of most of our projects, and I’m also in charge of implementing my vision and mission for MOG. I like to negotiate all my commercial leases as well. I’m a perfectionist and very hands-on. I know it’s my weakness. I have a hard time delegating tasks and responsibilities, although I’m working on it to improve my control in my company. I’m working on so many things to improve on my personality, so soon I will be a renewed “improved Kambiz Merabi,” then I’ll be perfect.
How did you get to the Van Nuys area?
A very good friend of my brother-in-law is an attorney whose wife is a broker in Van Nuys. They both were working in Van Nuys and I knew I was a developer. At first, they just told me about the south-east corner of Victory and Van Nuys and an assemblage that was up for sale.
At that point I was ready to start, however that assemblage did not work out because every property had a different owner and they all teamed up to raise the selling price. I started purchasing on Sylvan Street and began to build the first project. Then just kept buying on Sylvan to build.
How did you get involved in politics?
My parents are apolitical, however I am not like them. I have opinions on matters that are important to my family, community and country. I was introduced to a well-known political UN reporter who started taking me to political events in NYC. Arezoo does not like the politics but has supported me in all my involvement in politics.
What had motivated you to run for Van Nuys Neighborhood Council?
In 2014 it started simply as articulating a “desire to genuinely make a difference.” I was motivated to run after many conversations I had with other landlords in the Van Nuys area who did not want to take any initiative to help the community, and to help with fund raising for improving parks and libraries in the area for the community, and they were not willing to take on the challenge. As a businessman and landlord of several buildings in the area I feel there is a great potential for the community. To help existing businesses, expand senior programs, kids’ after-school activity, help the homeless situation, attract new year-round businesses and engage the community to attract young families to be more involved in Van Nuys are just some of the positive directions that I was hoping to accomplish by running for the vacated seat in Van Nuys.
There are a lot of sponsors involved with your 351 projects.
It’s going to be a partnership between a hotelier and Merabi Organization Group. A normal meeting is at least 15 people, it is my dream building.
How did you weather the great recession of 2007-2009?
The recession hit us pretty hard. It looked like we were going to lose some [properties]. That’s what happened to our NY properties and just a few here in LA but we managed to keep the rest. We learned from that to be more conservative and more prudent.
Do you have any hobbies?
I like to play chess, and tennis, I love to listen to music, and clothing and shoes are my hobbies.
What do you read?
I read history and autobiographies of political icons. I read the Dalai Lama’s books, and books about self-improvement.